Creativity and the Future

and the
Part 2 - Together
Presented by
David Keenan
7 July 2012
Imagine: How Creativity Works
is divided into two sections
Alone – individuals (June 2)
Together – groups (July 7)
The Book
The Author
• Contributing Editor at Wired
Published March 19, 2012
By Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
• Graduated Columbia University
• Studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar
• Written for The New Yorker, Nature,
The New York Times Magazine, etc.
• Columnist for The Wall Street Journal
• Frequent contributor to
WNYC's Radiolab.
Agenda – Part 2
Summary – part 1
Q – collaboration
Urban friction
Shakespeare Paradox
Agenda – Part 1
Two types
The Process
The Mechanics
The Factors
Summary – part 1
Part 1 presentation and audio available at
scroll down to June 2 for links
Two Different Types
Divergent thinking
• Trusting spontaneous
• Right hemisphere of brain
• Expand internal search
• Essential for remote
associative problems
• Assisted by
warm showers,
blue rooms,
paradigm shifts,
radical restructuring
• Censor turned off
• Active daydream
Convergent thinking
• Attention, focus, analysis
• Essential for refining
poem, editing, solving
algebra problems
• Chisel away at errors,
slow grind toward better
• Assisted by
red color
coffee, dopamine
limited distractions
The Process
• Frustration with a problem or situation,
maybe some melancholy, angst
• Anthropologist, explorer – looking with new eyes
• Letting go – open to new ideas, go with flow
• Breakthrough – now there’s an idea
• Refinement – slowly grinding out errors
• Chutzpah – the certain belief in the goodness
Big Ideas - Part 1
• Creativity is a bundle of distinct mental processes.
• How we think about a problem, should depend on
the problem itself
• Knowledge can be a subtle curse
– When we learn about the world, we also learn all the
reasons why the world cannot be changed.
– We get used to our failures and imperfections.
• To remain creative over time…
– Experiment with ignorance
– Stare at things we do not fully understand
• We see the most when we are outside looking in
The Future of Creativity
Q – collaboration
Urban friction
Shakespeare Paradox
Small World Q
Brian Uzzi and Jarrett Spiro study of Broadway
musicals, their teams (ave. size 7), and success
Q less than 1.4 – too raw
Q of about 2.6 – perfect blend
Q greater than 3.2 – too familiar's_research_papers/uzzi&spiroajs_smallworlds.pdf
• 1980 George Lucas - Lucasfilm started a computer division
for special effects and Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith hired
• John Lassiter, a Disney animator hired as “UI designer”
• Official goal – make and sell CG computer systems
• Unofficial goal – make a completely CG movie
• 1986 G. Lucas tired of funding computer geeks and $135k
mainframes, sold the unit to Steve Jobs for $10 million
• The computers did not sell – too early, too costly
• Jobs funded himself, millions per year
• Catmull, Smith and Lassiter turned to 15 sec commercials
• And started their creative culture
• Tin Toy – 5 min short film won Oscar 1989
and Disney’s interest – collaborate for Toy Story
Pixar Culture
• Normal Hollywood – form an independent
company to make film – (limit loss)
• Pixar wanted animators and computer scientists
to collaborate and build a good team
• A mediocre team will screw up a good idea.
Give a mediocre idea to a good team and
let them work together.
• Steve Jobs cancelled plan for separate silo offices
• Single vast space with airy atrium
Pixar Culture
Jobs moved
• Mailboxes
• Meeting rooms
• Cafeteria
• Coffee shop
• Gift shop
• Bathrooms
• Game tables
to the atrium
Now 11 bars on campus + Pixar Univ, 110 classes
These are the “third places” where people “smoosh”
together and strike up conversations
Not a waste of time, random chats are a
constant source of good ideas
Allen Curve
The closer you sit to a colleague, the
higher the frequency of communication
13 feature films
released through Feb
Earning $602 million
2006 - Disney buys
Pixar for $7.4 billion
• Shared areas – big venue for new ideas
• The most innovative teams are
a mixture of familiar and unexpected
• “Shredding” – every morning animators and
computer scientists have breakfast and analyze
the few seconds on film from previous day
• Learned from Toyota – anyone can stop the line
• Everybody learns together to spot and fix problems
• Brutally critical – candid
Alex Osborn, cofounder BBDO, late 1940s
1. Defer judgment
2. Reach for quantity
• Focus on quantity:
• Withhold criticism: should be put 'on hold'
• Welcome unusual ideas:
• Combine and improve ideas:
Groups brainstorming do not produce more ideas
than working alone
Everyone is right. When all ideas are equally
useful, we stay within ourselves, no incentive to
think about others’ thoughts
Better than Brainstorming
• Charlan Nemeth, psychologist UC Berkeley
• 265 undergrads into 5 person teams
• Each – same, difficult problem, 20 minutes
Group 1
Group 2
Group 3
No other instructions
Good solutions from many
Work however
X ideas
Std guidelines
Don’t be afraid to say any idea
Most studies suggest you should
debate, even criticize each others ideas
X + a few
1.25*X ideas
Debate and Criticism
• “Debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas, but
rather stimulate them – compared to every other
condition” C. Nemeth
• Imagination is not meek. Criticism leads to new
ideas because is triggers the brain to fully engage
with the work of others.
• Footnote: Anger seems to have short term
creative benefits – angry subjects generate more
ideas initially, quickly declined
• Pixar – the importance of “plussing” – constructive
• Done right, criticism works like surprise
Another C Nemeth study
• “Free associate, express the first thing that
comes to mind when I say…”
• …blue. Answers =sky 45%, ocean, green, jeans
• Clichés are efficient. The brain does efficient.
• But when assistant in group says a “wrong” one
like turquoise (for blue) the group came up with
far more original and varied responses
• The power of dissent, is the power of surprise
• Trying to understand a strange response leads
thinking to a new perspective, leaving
cliché land behind
Urban Friction
• “…the metropolis provides what otherwise could
be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.”
Jane Jacobs, urban activist, author
• Modern urban planning – a debacle
• Instead cozy neighborhoods like the Village, NYC
– Short blocks, cheap rents, mixed use, residential and
• Cities force us to mingle with people of different
“social distances” exposing us to much wider
Phoenix, AZ - 1.44 million population, 3,071/sq mi.
– Avoid unwanted interactions
– Trades crowded public spaces for single family
– # 146 in innovation
San Jose, CA/Silicon Valley – 1.9 mil, 5,500/sq mi.
Local culture, not history, not geography
Lots of bars & cafes
Lots of mixing between companies
# 2 in innovation
Boston/Rt 128 from 1955 to 1970’s
– DEC, Wang as examples
– Giant head start
– Lost race due to self-sufficiency, secrecy, isolation, NDA
San Jose, CA/Silicon Valley
1956 Shockley came to Mountain View after Boston rej.
1957 “Traitorous 8” left Shockley for Fairchild Semi
1968 Noyce & Moore left Fairchild for Intel
By 1985 had twice population of Rt 128
Lots of mixing between companies,
lax NDA enforcement
– Homebrew Computer Club – Jobs met Woz
Today’s Hot City
Tel Aviv, Israel
• Few natural resources
• Lurches from war to war
• Absorbed 1.5 million immigrants in 20 years
(20% of 7.8 million total)
• Small size of area – everyone know everyone
• Everyone serves in the IDF, reserves aid network
• Lots of smooshing
• Israel is 91% urban
• Most folks have 4 – 7 close friends
• Weak ties varies widely
Martin Ruef, sociologist, Princeton
• Study of 766 entrepreneurs
A. Most – limited circle of contacts, self similar
B. Some – large numbers of weak ties, unexpected
friendships, expansive, diverse social networks
• Group B was 3x more innovative than Group A
(patents, trademarks, entering unexploited niches)
• The most creative ideas don’t occur when we are
alone. Rather, they emerge from our social circles,
collections of acquaintances who inspire
novel thoughts
Face to Face
University of Michigan study
• Face-face groups solve difficult tasks more
quickly than those communicating electronically
Isaac Kohane, Harvard Medical School
• 2010 study of 35,000 peer reviewed papers
• Mapped each co-author
• Closer-authors’ papers were cited more often
Our most important ideas do not arrive on a screen
but emerge from idle conversations, from too
many scientists sharing the same space.
Internet not worthless
• Rethink the nature of online interactions
• Insure that digital contacts do not detract from
our real analog conversations in real world.
• Internet has evolved to maximize efficiency,
make it easier to find information.
• But increasing serendipity has great potential
• Seek and engage the strange, surprising, weird,
• Popularity is not the goal
Cities vs. Companies
The surprising math of cities and corporations
West – Theoretical physicist, Stanford, Los Alamos turned to study cities
after supercollider cancelled in 1993.
Video 17:34
• For every doubling of city population, productivity,
wealth, crime, patents, garbage, etc. increases by
• As more people come together, they exchange
more ideas and become more innovative
• Yet differences endure
– Austin, TX – lots of patents
– Cleveland, OH – lots of poor
– Bridgeport, CT – lots of wealth
• Best way to reduce crime is to add lots of recent
college graduates at 11:21 of 17:34
Universality at 12:03 of 17:34
b > 1 (Super-Linear) at 14:44 of 17:34
Innovation to Avoid Collapse at 15:04 of 17:34
Scalability of Companies at 16:00 of 17:34
Cities vs. Companies
• Cities rarely die. Companies always do.
• Corporate productivity – sublinear – does not
increase with size, due to failure to innovate
• Success leads to minimizing the freewheeling
interactions that lead to new ideas
• Erect walls, create hierarchy, keep people from
relaxing, from sharing insights, stifle
conversations, discourage dissent, suffocate
social networks
• Rather than maximizing employee creativity
they obsess on minor inefficiencies
• Exceptions
Periods of Excess Genius
• David Banks, statistician, Duke University
• “The Problem of Excess Genius” short paper
• Genius “clots inhomogenously” in time and space
– Athens, 440 to 380 BC
• Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, Aristhophanes, Sophocles
– Florence, 1450 to 1490
• Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Ghiberti, Botticelli, Donatello
• Not a result of peace or prosperity
• Not purely a result of a paradigm shift
• May not be able to tell why for these periods
London, late 1580s
• Theater boom, dozens of new playhouses
• Showing 6 days a week
• Each night 2% of citizens attended a show
• Densest settlement in history
– Over 200,000 people in few square miles
Wages were 50% higher than in countryside
By 1590, more than half population < 20 yrs old
1510 – less than 1% could read
1590 – about 50% could read
• 1600 – >100 publishers in Covent Garden
• Protestant – read the Bible
• Vast access to new stories, previously only
available to scholars who studied classics in
Greek, Latin
• University previously only from upper classes but
scholarships for some commoners with promise
• Commoner grads did not go to court, so choice
were the Clergy, Merchant or Arts/Playwright
• So, flood of new stories, surplus playwrights,
public demand for new works, lots of venues
• Demand was so great for new plays, that young
playwrights got hired, and gained experience
• His first play, Henry VI, was drawn heavily from The
Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland by
Ralph Holinshed, a book he borrowed
• He learned from Christopher Marlowe’s
Tamburlaine, how audiences loved violence & blood
• Some thought Marlowe wrote many of the lines
• His plays improved, yet he never stopped stealing
from Marlowe, and others
• He pioneered a new creative method, in which
every conceivable source informed his art
• He was very talented, yet was able to shine due to
the circumstances of the time and place
• England practiced ‘benign neglect’ of rules of
censorship of playwrights
• England had very few rules on copyright, so
Shakespeare was free to steal stories and lines
from other writers
• One of the first societies that did not treat writers
as criminals
Why it worked
• T.S. Elliot wrote that the astonishing outpouring of
creativity in Elizabethan England was because
these artists were lucky to live in a culture that
made it relatively easy to make art.
Schooled in traditions, but able to steal from peers
Knew Latin, but wrote in common tongue
Complex plays, but still sold lots of tickets
So more artists grew to be successful
– Less talent was wasted
Vocational School for Creativity
• NOCCA – New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
– Alumni: Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr.
– 98% of seniors go to college, 80% get financial aid
• High school kids from all over spend afternoons
• Freshman auditions – lots of self taught
– Teachers look for raw potential, not polish
• Once accepted
Student paired with a Master (working artist)
No lectures, no standard text, no standardized test
Student learns by doing
Spend their time creating, performing,
adapting to critique
Vocational School for Creativity
• Most NOCCA grad do become professional artists
• They do have essential skills
– Ability to develop their own talents
– Know what it takes to become good
– Know how to struggle, fail, try again, solve problems
and cope with criticism
– Know how to manage their own time and
persevere in the face of difficulty
– Know how to push themselves
– Understanding the brute reality of the creative process
• NOCCA strives for pockets of brilliance
by encouraging excellence
Vocational School for Creativity
High Tech High – San Diego, CA charter school
• Every grad has been admitted to college,
85% complete 4 year degree
• Learn by doing, play with scrap metal and
programming code in abandoned Navy facility
• There is no test for the future, that we can teach to
• Creativity is a skill that never goes out of style
• Students learn to cope with complexity and
connect ideas, how to bridge disciplines and
improve their first drafts – can’t be taught,
must be discovered, learned by doing
• Persistence, perseverance, grit
• Single-minded pursuit of goal,
sacrifice for sake of passion,
because creative success demands nothing less
• One of most important predictors of success
• Explains individual variation better than IQ score
• Predicts success in
– National Spelling Bee
– Special Forces Boot Camp
– Teacher Effectiveness (Teachers for America program)
• Benign neglect of rules
• Spread of education
• Ideas have value
Meta-ideas for
Ages of Excess Genius
1. Education
New forms of educational opportunity
Ensure every student has a chance to succeed
Ensure that talented have chance to flourish
Identify those with motivation and potential
Give them tools to discover and invent
When talent is concentrated, students inspire
and challenge each other
Meta-ideas for
Ages of Excess Genius
2. Smoosh
• New forms of human mixing
• Immigrants invent patents at double the rate of
• 1% increase in immigrants with college degrees
leads to 15% increase in patent production
• Ensure collisions of creative people
Meta-ideas for
Ages of Excess Genius
3. Willingness to Take Risks
• Consistently encourage those who take chances
• Even though most entrepreneurs will fail and
many research grants will miss the mark
• Most successful entrepreneurs have failed at
least one previous start-up
• It is vital to show support to creative process
• Think of it as a “farm team system”,
find young prospects, play them, coach them,
grow them, let them show what they can do
Meta-ideas for
Ages of Excess Genius
4. Manage Rewards for Innovation
• Inventors should profit from past inventions
• But we need to encourage borrowing and
• Patents “add the fuel of interest to the fire of
genius” A. Lincoln
• Also make it tough for other inventors to build upon
• Need to get the price right
• US creativity undermined: by vague patents,
patent trolls, Mickey Mouse copyrights
Meta-ideas for
Ages of Excess Genius
Willingness to Take Risks
Manage Rewards for Innovation
More meta-ideas are needed
Our creative problems keep getting more difficult.
It is time to create a culture that won’t hold us back.
Thank you
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